Thursday, 28 February 2013


Last year in June I wrote a blog about Beppe Grillo. I’d never heard about him until then but I was intrigued.

Here’s what I said:

“For some time I’ve been worrying about the absence of comic anger in the midst of a shaken world. Where, I lamented, was a Swift or Hogarth or a That Was the Week that Was? Thank heaven, to be sure, for Private Eye and Have I got News for you? But where’s the rage? Where’s the kind of filleting that Christopher Hitchens gave Tony Blair in their debate on religion?

This week that all changed.

I became aware of Beppe Grillo and his Five Star Movement in Italy.This comedian and political activist won just under 20% of the vote in local contests in Parma, and several smaller towns. Have a look at the story of his journey and his beliefs

Like Alexis Tsipras in Greece he seems uncorrupted, focused and damn mad.

I confess (shamefacedly) not to have realised Beppe had been voted a European of the year by Time Magazine in 2005 on the back of his fantastic blog (  And then I saw Griff Rhys Jones on Question Time demolishing the other contributors including the, for once, tongue tied Caroline Lucas trying to defend wind power. He was angry and eloquent. I wanted to vote for him. Sitting opposite Lord (good Lord, how did that happen?) Prescott and two brains Willetts, he was so much more passionate and smart. And no, he doesn’t look funny in this clip does he?” 

This week Beppe holds the fate of Italy and maybe Europe in his hands. He has over 100 seats in the Italian Senate and his threat to slice open Italian politics like a tuna tin doesn’t seem entirely idle.

Like him we should be enraged by the old boys club that is Euro politics,

It’s time for a big change.

I see in the Eastleigh by-election that there’s a party called the “beer, baccy and crumpet” party with a candidate called Ray Hall….good solid trustworthy sort of name.

I hope he wins.

And I hope he’s as angry as I am at how disappointing normal politics has become.
Ray and Beppe – that’s a glimpse of new Europe.

Monday, 25 February 2013


Scientists would have it that the concept of perpetual motion is not possible, yet today we live in a 24/7/365 world where everything has to be of increasingly high speed and impact to be seen to work.

A lot’s been written about the need to teach children the benefits of boredom but when you think about this is a bit like trying to teach sharks to stop swimming and have a bit of a bask.

And I’m more worried about the rest of us anyway.

pretty cheerleaders kissing

Five day test cricket is being usurped by 20:20 that non-stop, knock-about, snog-about slog. 

Me, I’d be experimenting with 20:20 football too, given half a chance.
A whole game all over in just 40 minutes. 


We have 5x15 the concept that’s gone one up, or rather 3 minutes faster than TED, 5 lectures of 15 minutes each. 

Gladstone and his very long speeches would be ever so slowly turning in his grave.

Fast food is not fast enough, we are now talking about instant nibbles. A new generation of “snackers” is emerging to whom the thought of a long lunch is an anathema like having to sit through a concert of boring chamber music.
Imagine the trauma that the 20mph speed limit about to be imposed in Brighton will cause this hyperfast world….the equivalent of hearing “that’ll be 20 minutes for your burger – is that all right?”.  Speed is the key competitive advantage we tell our eager young business people; you must learn to work 24/7/365 in a global economy; productivity is the new God – put your foot down (except, of course, for you lot in Brighton).
We hear about 30 story hotels being built in 15 days in China. We hear of 500 page books being written in 20 days in Indonesia (no I made that up but doesn’t it freeze your brain just you to think of it?)

The Slow Movement in Italy which was started to celebrate proper cooking and in response the potential arrival of McDonalds in Rome, has lost out to the instant gratification world of marketers seeking to own what they call the “now-moment.”

We already have speed dating, speed interviewing and speed reading. Next in line will be speed gardening, speed painting, speed drinking (the 10 minute binge causes a shorter hangover), speed fishing and speed sleeping.

When Wordsworth (definitely not a speed poet) talked about “recollections in tranquillity” he may have been on to something.

And that ladies and gentlemen was my speed blog.


Has the BBC taken leave of its senses in their redactions of the Pollard Report?

I was at Balliol with Lord Patten. Chris (as we knew him) was seen many times ccc vvvv xxxx nnnn cccccc nn bb yet we never thought this ,,,,mmmmmmmm despite his obvious propensity for  bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb discreetly.

It was David Cameron in his relationship with ccccccc nnnnnnn who raised more xxxxxxxxxx. He was discovered one vvvv,,, with his finger bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb laughing in mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm and in discomfort.

Ed Balls or Balls up as his friends described him was well known for vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv            vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv with evident relish.

And he thought this picture said it all:

SssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssSssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssSssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss disgusting.d d disgusting.

As all the above shows the practice of redaction makes innocents subject to unjustified speculation because redaction feeds the wit of Merton and Hislop on “Have I Got News For You?” and the fertile imaginations of the rest of us. No wonder Jeremy Paxman’s so frustrated.

It’s hard enough running anything.  People just make it worse. The tensions between indulging creative talent, human ambitions and the tendency that human beings have to cut off their noses to spite their faces makes being a leader one of the most complex tasks that exists.

How does one reconcile the frailties of leaders like Steve Jobs, Ron Dennis, Frank Lowe with the fact that each in their respective fields have been leaders of utterly brilliant business enterprises?

I watched “Moneyball” on Friday – Brad Pitt playing Billy Beane General Manager of the Oakland “A”s a financially strapped Baseball Team who uniquely used data to help recruit a hugely cost effective team in 2002. He broke all the rules of intuition old timers relied on in judging potential. It’s a riveting story of new business models.

As John Henry owner of the Boston Red Socks says to Billy:

“You won the exact same number of games that the Yankees won, but the Yankees spent one point four million per win and you paid two hundred and sixty thousand. I know you've taken it in the teeth out there, but for the first guy through the wall it always gets bloody, always. It's the threat of not just the way of doing business, but in their minds it's threatening the game. But really what it's threatening is their livelihoods, it's threatening their jobs, it's threatening the way that they do things.”

Redaction feels old fashioned too. Some believe it’s saving their jobs but it isn’t.  They should start opening up, telling the truth and changing the way they do things.

Monday, 18 February 2013


I keep on talking about the issue of trust. As Jack Welch, late, great CEO of GE said:- “forget about technology it’s all to do with trust.”

Thus those scientists whom I was praising last week have, just as I predicted, shot up to number 3 in the IPSOS/ MORI Veracity Index 2013 just published. Scientists are now only just behind teachers and judges.

And we shall need these scientists to sort out the food chain catastrophe. The initial scare and jokes about horse meat (“What do you want on your burger?” “£20 to win please”) are past because it’s just dawning on the supermarkets and government that the real nemesis of cheap food has come home to roost.

We were due a “good food scare” (that’s how an official described it) and this one sticks the knife into a cost driven supply chain.

This is very bad for value products – horse meat, let’s face it, is the least of it. Read “Beastly Things” by Donna Leon which is about a corrupt abbatoir in Italy and you may never eat meat again.

Think old, diseased, filthy cows barely able to stagger to their deaths … yes, that’s Sunday Lunch.
As we become more efficient driving cost out of the system something will snap whether it’s the braking system on a car, a computer keyboard or the ingredients in a chilled ready meal.

We are living through a period of rampant nationalism to which this all plays. So far in the meat debacle the following countries have been fingered – France, Romania, Poland, Wales and Holland via a dodgy Dutch middleman. And Yorkshire…a country by their own reckoning.

The big word when it comes to trust is “provenance”. I want to know where all my food and drink comes from, how carefully the ingredients have been prepared, how the livestock has been cared for and whether the values of the company and brand are sound.

In the end this is as much about values as it’s about process.

It’s going to lead to higher prices, food inflation and the mother of all battles in the high street. Not a bad time to open a local butchers’ shop. A terrible time for a lack of transparency.
Just answer these two questions.

Where are you from?
And what’s the quality like today?

I’m off for a pint of Harvey’s brewed in Lewes and do not dare tell me it would taste as good if brewed in Hungary.

As I said it’s all about trust….and honest people like scientists.

Monday, 11 February 2013


There was a time when there was a rift between the sciences and the humanities. In his seminal book “The Two Cultures” published in the 1950s CP Snow spoke of it eloquently and caused a bit of a storm with FR Leavis (on the right in the “arts is best” corner.)

The two cultures explores the relationship between art and science

Today we are in a world where science is sexy and the darling of the media. Look at Marcus du Sautoy and Brian Cox. Media stars both, enthusiasts and great storytellers. And it’s showing up in research.

Professor Brian Cox and an image of the sun

I’ve referred before in my blogs to the IPSOS MORI study, the “Veracity Index” every year which checks how much people trust various groups in society. In 2011 for instance Doctors scored 88% and Politicians scored 14% - and someone said to me “as much as 14% - that’s amazing”.

What’s key is scientists overtook clergymen and priests for the first time and will, probably, by now have overtaken judges and professors in terms of trustworthiness.

So science is sexy and trustworthy but it’s also engaged. On Friday I spoke at the splendid Glasgow Science Centre at the Association of Science and Discovery Centre Marketing Conference.

Glasgow Science Centre and the River Clyde in Glasgow

The audience were as bright and enthusiastic a bunch as I’ve come across – scientists, social media experts and marketers. But what I don’t think they’d quite switched on to and one of the speakers before me, the redoubtable Ken Robinson the former head of the Tourism Alliance, certainly passed on from, the fact that science is bullseye centre of 2013 as a topic of news.

Association of Science and Discovery Centres (ASDC) logo
Scientists (ironically) are now much more on the side of the angels than the church.

What these champions of the future need to do is to pass on their appetite for life and their bright eyed optimism to the souls who teach the sciences, many so leadenly.

If I were 11 again I’d now want to be a scientist. And yet previously all my life I wanted to be a poet.
And here’s why.

Freeman J. Dyson in his book “The Scientist as Rebel” captures it: –
“From Galileo to today’s amateur astronomers, scientists have been rebels. Like artists and poets, they are free spirits who resist the restrictions their cultures impose on them. In their pursuit of nature’s truths, they are guided as much by imagination as by reason, and their greatest theories have the uniqueness and beauty of great works of art.”

Go to a science centre soon and see if the passion I got on Friday isn’t catching. And reflect on that early rebellious scientist.

Monday, 4 February 2013


Bankers are in the news again. Sir John Sunderland, Chair of the Barclays Remuneration Committee, defended Bob Diamond’s bonus – even in retrospect.  It was for Bob’s “enthusiasm, energy and skill”. Yeah, I’ve got lots of that too. Fred Goodwin had too.  And lots of people had it before Bob - like the Kray twins.

No, seriously, I’m tired of Burglar Bashing. Burglary’s a tricky and dangerous job with rotten hours which needs lots of creativity what with sliding credit cards in door jambs and so on. And it kick starts the economy with people having to replace all the stuff that’s been nicked. So if we had more burglaries the economy wouldn’t be in decline.

So let’s hear it for the energy, enthusiasm and skill of burglars and bankers.
And if you feel short of energy and enthusiasm pop into Neal’s Yard. I was there the other day picking up something. “Ah good”, I thought, “it’s virtually empty, two assistants, two customers”. Fifteen minutes later the same score. The assistants were selling the virtues of Dandelion Sperm or whatever.

Iin a daze I looked at the aromatherapy oils. Three stood out.

Optimism. Vitality. Focus.

They smelt nice enough but it was about more than scent. The promise was so powerful. They have, it would seem, bottled the sort of stuff that Bob Diamond got paid millions for and for less than a tenner for all three.
Oh and I got to sniff Frankincense too – a dry woody, pine smell that has a cosy, churchy smell to it –sort of comforting….anyway it was Sir Ken Robinson who told the splendid story of how children apply their minds to new things to make sense (frankincense) of them.

There was a small boy in his Primary School Christmas play in the part of the wise man Caspar the Gaspar, the Indian bringer of Fankinsense.

With supreme self-confidence he swept on and said:

“Frank sent this.”

He must have been massaged with Neal’s Yard Body Polish Enriched with “Confidence” by his mum.
Anyway here’s my recipe for enthusiasm in case Neal’s Yard are interested.

Take one positive person. Stir regularly with plenty of travel then mix in:-
Lots of curiosity
A pinch of a sense of the ridiculous
A library of books, articles, films and news
Scrub with energy
Introduce a roomful of other like-minded people
Infuse with laughter and …
A generous measure of rebelliousness
That should do it.

It will make you so enthusiastic it’ll have cynics running for the hills or the banks.